Protein, bro! Yeah but how much? A frequently asked question, seldom correctly answered. Read on to hear a Dietitians perspective on this ever popular topic.
What if I told you that there is such a thing as too much protein. Would you believe me? Maybe...maybe not. Well either way i'm here to tell you that in fact that is true (there's such a thing as too little AND too much - no joke). Protein is touted as the "magic nutrient" which should be consumed in very high quantities to maximize gains - the premise is "the more protein = the more muscle you'll build". People tend to also think only carbs and fats need to be considered when it comes to optimizing fat loss (notice how I specified FAT loss? ... Make note of that) and that protein is exempt from the equation so to speak.
Well this is all simply bro science, folks. Nutrition pseudoscience. Let me explain because what's a sweet fact without a little backup information to really get the nerdy juices flowing (aka protein meat sweats - to keep in line with the theme of today's post).
Protein requirements are dependent on a number of factors such as age, gender, activity level, type of training, training load, preferences, your health condition/status, lifestyle, and very importantly your goals (never de-value the importance of individualization - it's the cornerstone of my approach to nutrition prescription with ANYONE).
For the average Australian, the recommended adequate (NOTE I said adequate - not optimal) protein requirements are generally around 0.8-1.0g/kg of body weight/day - this is typically your low to moderate sedentary lifestyle peeps or for baseline protein intake adequacy. However, it is important to note that adequate & optimal can make the difference for whether muscle synthesis is achieved (or achieved to your desired level)- especially when you factor in my previous point of the importance of personalizing nutrition protocols to the individual. This is due to the fact protein isn't just used for muscle mass building but is involved in many processes in the body including repairing damage caused by activity before it even thinks about getting you those oh-so-sweet gains.
My recommendation for protein intake (high quality sources) for the general active population (and also including our wise elderly folk - dang sarcopenia!) is 1.2-1.6g/kg per day. This is in line with recent research and is a solid target for anyone wishing to either maintain lean muscle mass or maybe even build some lean mass - under normal conditions.
Obviously this amount isn't necessarily applicable for athletes or for those people who exercise quite regularly/want to build lean muscle mass (particularly in hypocaloric conditions). In these instances a greater protein intake may be justified to compensate for additional muscle breakdown and recovery times as well as to optimize muscle synthesis to achieve more specific performance or aesthetic goals (think power athletes or bodybuilders). Also, the importance of increased protein optimization in athletes (or normal people) who are in a hypocaloric state (i.e. maintaining an energy deficit for the goals of fat loss/becoming a lean machine) while following a resistance-training program, is especially crucial to ensure muscle atrophy is attenuated as much as possible during this "cutting phase" or weight loss effort.
The research supports protein intakes of 1.6-2.2g/kg/day in athletic folks to achieve optimal lean muscle synthesis and minimize any undesirable outcomes. When you factor in dieting (in this scenario we mean training in an energy deficit to achieve fat loss) where muscle retention is the goal then this range can be bumped up to 2.3-3.1g/kg fat free mass/day.
As the great Alan Aragon says - personal preferences should dictate which specific protein target you choose (regardless of gender) as there are very little contraindications to the higher protein intakes (NOTE: applies to generally healthy individuals without kidney problems). However, please note that intakes above this have found to have minimal benefit or effect and doesn't "boost" sweet gains acquisition. Your body either uses it for other processes or gets rid of it from the body as "waste".
Remember at the start of this piece how I highlighted FAT LOSS? - this is because optimizing protein intake is important to reduce muscle mass loss (when we want to lose weight we want to get rid of specifically FAT and not muscle- or at least I hope so!). So the importance of protein is highlighted here as intakes that are too low will increase risk of lean mass loss (and hinder fat burning) and excessive intakes may lead to an energy excess (if not dialed down and factored into energy balance/deficit) which in turn may also hinder fat burning. Again this all needs to be individualized via working closely with an qualified Accredited Dietitian - so "too low" and "too high" can be very different from person to person.
Protein distribution for optimal muscle recovery and synthesis is also another nutritional consideration when working with active individuals or athletes. This topic will be covered in a later post so stay tuned and watch this space!
IN SUMMARY - Key message here though is simple, protein requirements are lower than what many inaccurate sources on the net will have you believe (300+ grams daily anyone? haha) and it is highly individual and not a one-size-fits-all. The Dietitian recommended protein intake is clearly higher for active individuals (1.6-2.2g/kg/d) and lower for the average Joe (0.8-1g/kg/d). However, due to the minimal contraindications to higher than "normal" intakes of proteins and through my personal experience with working with many weight loss/active clients - 1.2- 1.6kg/kg/d is a good ball-mark figure to aim for! Extreme high protein intakes are unnecessary and the 'extra' protein will simply go unused for the purposes of muscle synthesis so may be a expensive, smelly (that protein farts struggle), and futile strategy.
Trust me...i'm a Dietitian ;)
Hope you gained some value from this piece you beautiful humans! If you have, please feel free to comment below and share this blog! I'll appreciate it heaps. Also, check me out on my socials below for more evidence-based, no-nonsense nutrition advice.
Until next time,
The Climbing Dietitian
Hi there! My name's Aleksa Gagic - i'm a Brisbane Sports Dietitian & Brisbane Sports Nutritionist. I have 7+ years experience in providing professional nutrition consulting and want to help you learn about the power of flexible nutrition.